Note: This review is based on only having played The Witcher 2, not the first game as it is not currently available on the Mac App Store. I recommend you play the first Witcher before the sequel. While this won’t remove all of my issues over some of the storytelling, it might just give you a basic understanding of the game world. However, you will have to go to Steam or GOG.com to buy a copy.
It’s always a danger to begin playing a game franchise with the sequel. And this especially goes for The Witcher 2 which has such a rich world, with a huge cast of pre-existing characters. Technically the game is no doubt a masterful creation. The day/night cycle is used to create one of the most realistic free roam worlds I have ever had the pleasure of exploring. It’s just a shame that the story feels as if you are starting a book half way through.
The Witcher 2 Atmosphere
The Witcher 2 begins with the first game’s protagonist, Geralt of Rivia, being interrogated about the murder of the King of Temeria, King Foltest. What follows is a huge adventure spanning many hub worlds, packed full of optional missions and difficult choices.
The Witcher 2 is a hugely ambitious game. At certain key moments you will have to make critical decisions which seriously affect the course of the game entirely. The game’s scale is impossibly impressive, and does a good job at creating this very intricately thought-out world. But this scale does take its toll on some of the cinematic cut scenes. Some battle scenarios lose a little bit of impact from the lack of dramatic cinematography and solid sound design.
The Witcher 2 does an incredible job at creating a living city, not just hinged around events involving Geralt. This sense of authenticity is caused by the game’s robust day/night cycle. Come by the butcher at midday and you may find him gutting a fresh pig. At midnight, shops are shut and instead the inn is abuzz with the local villagers, drowning away their sorrows in a pint or two.
But The Witcher 2’s attempt at creating a realistic world isn’t just about admiring it. It is about interacting with it. Draw your sword in the village, and guards will warn you to put it away, and towns folk will get nervous. Attack a guard and you could be executed on sight, or reported to the local authority. Everything you do has a wider consequence. The Witcher 2 is also great at establishing a sense of place for Geralt of Rivia. A witcher, feared, despised, awed… different. You will see this as you wander the streets and talk to strangers. People will react to your presence, inquisitive children will ask you questions and some will shout at you to go away.
Side missions are not only optional marked points on your map, they can also occur from events happening in town. You may come across some guards taunting and jostling a young Scoia’tael woman, accusing her of leading some friends into a deadly ambush. Will you protect the woman, or help the guards? At one point, I came across an angry mob who were campaigning to close a local store which was supposedly selling drugs. If you choose to close the store, this change is permanent, and you will walk past that boarded up building knowing you left that mark upon the village. Was it for the better?
Unfortunately, once it gets to the main story the game feels like you’ve just started watching The Two Towers without having seen The Fellowship of the Ring. All this cool stuff is happening around you, but without the required backdrop, the story trips and wobbles, and most of the relationships fail to resonate like they should. Not much exposition is given from the start, and the game acts as if you should already know your way around the place. The Witcher feels comfortable throwing names of places and people around like age-old acquaintances, despite being the first mentioning of them. It’s obvious The Witcher has incredible scope, but it can be hard keeping track of all these different complex relationships in this intertwined plot, and I don’t want to feel as if I need to consult an encyclopaedia to keep track of what’s going on. If you’re already familiar with the Witcher universe, then you won’t find this as much of a problem. But if not, then you may want to venture over to this artistic Witcher recap video. It’s interesting, but not overly helpful.
The Witcher 2 Gameplay
Combat is basic, but not simplistic. Geralt has the ability to use both his Steel and Silver sword, effective against humans and monsters respectively. Aside from a weaker and strong attack, being a witcher, Geralt has a few magical Signs at his disposal which enable him to set enemies on fire, make them turn sides and set traps on the ground among others. Fighting is reasonably easy, but on harder difficulties, can prove to be deep enough for some worthy challenge.
You can upgrade Geralt as you gain more experience, and this can be put towards a combat, alchemy and sign skill tree, enhancing aspects of Geralt’s performance on the field.
Some moments in The Witcher 2 cause you to sit back in your chair, and marvel at the level of engineering that has gone into the open-world hubs in the game. However, the story just doesn’t fall together naturally, and this causes the progression through the game to be a little confusing. It’s an incredible game, with a simply stunning visual presentation and attention to detail. However, it is a little too caught up in its huge ambition that it sometimes compromises the end user experience.
Pros: An incredibly detailed world, very realistic day/night cycle linking in with the village eco-system, stunning presentation.
Cons: Lacks on story telling and character relationship building.
Publisher: CD Projekt RED
Genre: Open-World Role Playing at its Finest